Written by Sophia Varoumas
When Gigi Rowe’s debut album created some buzz around That Mag’s virtual offices last week, senior writer Sophia Varoumas went on assignment to follow the artist to her NYC show, finding out exactly what was said when Jay Z complimented her (twice!) and gain insight into the Gigi Rowe evolution of a glamorous runaway.
For Gigi Rowe, born Laura Warshauer, this central New Jersey native has decorated a colorful path in music for herself, with lots of fascinating industry stories about her musical experiences that make up and embody her journey as a solo artist. With some help from her personified stage name, Gigi Rowe, this fearless singer with a captivating stage presence ultimately beams with a beacon of positivity. Her songwriting and catchy lyrics will be repeated in your mind all day.
Gigi Rowe’s debut album, Laura dropped on Sept 30th. (see review here) She described making the album alongside producer PJ Biancoas as “majestic and beautiful. The idea that I got to have this sort of uninterrupted time with my favorite producer on this gorgeous farmland in Jersey was a dream,” says Rowe. The pair, already looking toward their next body of work, called Glamorous Runaway.
Listen to That Mag’s exclusive clip of Gigi Rowe reciting Glamorous Runaway from Sophia’s interview.
Rowe’s earlier work sounded super poppy, pop-star-esque. Very, “hello Barbie, let’s go party.” Still, she finds herself on a new learning curve with a new producer she adores. With a solid debut album, Laura, she speaks to an audience with sultry, sexy story-telling vibes that lend back to her musical songwriting roots growing up in Fair Haven, NJ, almost 20 years ago.
Her career has been on this steady trajectory as of late. With her pale blue eyes on the horizon, this singer-songwriter has been pleasantly clustering her work everywhere, with a crossover from DefJam/Island to becoming a completely independent artist. She’s still winning over industry executives as she did when she was a kid, who now has been adding her tracks onto Netflix and Prime TV shows. The latest is a new single titled “Sexy Beautiful,” which premiered on the new FOX TV show The Cleaning Lady, aired on Oct 3rd, and is now streaming on Hulu. The single has been released on all DSP, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
She reveals even though she too has been afraid to go after her dreams, “even when things can seem impossible, if you keep going when times are tough, no matter how many times you get knocked down or dropped from the deal; or how long the dry spells get, good things will happen.”
Rowe has found many successes with many projects in her career thus far worth mentioning. She is an author and illustrator of a children’s book, Wishes. Rowe is now doing a kid’s podcast show called Posy Flynn Sings!, creating, producing, and composing the music for the show. She’s even the voice of the title character. She’s also had multiple songs of hers on the Just Dance video game series that include, “Got That,” “Run the Night” and “New Reality.”
With pop-anthem love songs making their rotations onto shows like Emmy award-winning, Euphoria, Gigi is gaining more and more recognition. On her debut album, she sings some slowed-down hungover tempos like Lana Del Ray with a voice reminiscent of Mazzy Star; fresh yet familiar pop vibes that lean on the cusp of a lot of the new country sounds. Sort of like a female Bruce Springsteen with tracks like Velvet and Lips.
“I feel like in a lot of ways we are all trying to honor the inner child, for me, the 5-year-old that I’m picturing now, that was brave enough to sing my first solo in front of 500 people,” said Rowe. She sang, “I saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and recalled getting into her mom’s red Chanel lipstick, which she still wears. She remembers the “little black velvet dress with white collar and a red rose, who was barely tall enough to reach the mic, but I was able to deliver a performance, even at that age, and I think that instinctively, even then, felt the power of music.” Noticing she could move the room and a natural spark, a young Laura was drawn to performing.
Determined to place herself into a position with some of the greats, and look like Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez while doing it, Gigi Rowe promises she’s got a “timeless/ageless” beauty mantra, So Iconic like recent track, a collaborative effort with Tik Tok star, Claybaby.
Her world is much like a music box with a sweet little marionette inside. Once the music box is opened, so much is revealed. It’s hypnotic as you stare, listen and watch. Gigi Rowe does the same thing. Her songs and friends are like treasures in a metaphorical music box. “You have to find the unicorns in life,” Rowe says, “that’s how you create the magic.” She feels lucky to have such special and magical people on her team, who, on the creative and business side, care with meticulous detail to make things happen with synergies from a creative and business standpoint. “The stars have to align, and there is an element of magic where one and one must equal three. It’s something so much bigger than all of us; it comes all together with the cosmos and the universe and makes my Gigi Rowe world a fun place.”
Laura age 5, photo courtesy of Gigi Rowe
The Early Years
When she picked up a guitar, Gigi was inspired by 90s female powerhouses like Alanis Morrissette and Joan Osborne. Still, before Gigi Rowe was born, Laura came first. As a baby, Laura sang in her crib. Rowe always loved singing. She explained that when she was a baby would get up in the middle of the night, sing songs at the top of her lungs, and just wake the whole house up.
By age 12, her father gifted her the first guitar for Valentine’s Day. Thinking it would be great if she could accompany herself. “He gave me a card of a guitar teacher in Redbank, New Jersey, and then surprised me with an electric guitar [that was] waiting for me on my bed.” She said it was a black Yamaha guitar with a white pickguard. “I thought it was so sweet. My Dad is the sweetest person on the planet, but that particular memory stayed with me and inspired me to start playing guitar.”
Once she learned her first chords, she quickly started writing her own songs, which felt like her own language. “I felt like it gave me this identity that I loved. I felt like I had my own kind of secret way to talk about anything I wanted, and whether people understood it or not, having a voice for those inner thoughts or stories, was very empowering. It became my universal language.”
Her parents have always really been supportive too. “My dad is a doctor, and my mom is a teacher, and we all come from very different worlds, but despite that, I think they’ve always wanted nothing more than for me to live the life of my dreams.”
The Open Mic Days and the start of recording studios
“I would love to go everywhere with my guitar. Then I would book studio time, at fourteen, at the Jersey Shore. All I wanted to do is create a recording right away. I wanted to perform for people. I wanted to make records. I imagined that my songs would sound like they were supposed to, just like on the radio. “That’s when I learned what a producer does, what an engineer does, and what collaborations can look like.”
She recalls the summer before high school when she started doing open mics in New Jersey, going in and out of NYC. There was a coffee shop in Redbank called, No Ordinary Joe’s, where she would play out in the early days. There was a place in NYC called Club Ivis, that no longer exists, where Gigi would go to Backstage Magazine and find open mics to just show up at. At Club Ivis, she showed up and played a song and got offered her first show. This was her first big break with success.
“I’ve always been drawn to entertainment. I loved and grew up on musical theatre and dabbled in acting, which I still have a love for. I loved how empowering it all was. I would walk into a room, and say, “Hi, I’m gonna play you this song, and I’m going to change your life right now.“ By throwing herself into the business, she knew she’d be learning and figuring it out along the way. “I’m a big believer in just showing up. Most of life is just showing up. You never know unless you do,” Rowe says.
“I think that I’ve had a lifetime of that. I had an opportunity to sing for someone in Turkey so I bought a plane ticket and sang for someone when I landed in Istanbul. I found myself hot air ballooning in Cappadocia; jumped at the chance to get into the room to sing a song for someone by getting to create chance meetings. I am very much that person to be like, I am there!” Whatever it takes, I will be there.”
Rowe found herself at Sony Music Studios in NYC in a writer’s room by this time. “That was the first time I was discovering what it was like to hear what my voice sounded like over other instrumentation, over keyboards and string pads; adding beats and then dabbling in production. That was really eye-opening for me, but it was sort of a bygone era.”
Bitter End and Bleaker Street
“It was a big studio; there were a lot of rap and hip hop sessions happening. The studio operated twenty-four hours a day. Suddenly, I could be immersed in this world, sleeping at the studio recording until I couldn’t stay awake any longer, curling up on the couch, in and out of these different sessions, Rowe explains.
With access to that building and through people she collaborated with, Rowe began new experiences making records. Within the building walls, she met Bitter End club owner Kenny Gorka. Those were the times when she stayed up all hours of the day and night and befriended the club owner, who is no longer living. “He would get me home to Jersey in the middle of the night just so I could stay and hang out and listen to music,” Rowe remembers. “Those experiences really shaped me early on, and then, it was in that moment and that energy when I ended up with my first record deal signed by LA Reed to Island/DefJam Records.”
It was a very different time in the industry however, Rowe explains. “I was recording and doing shows and rehearsing. I was running around and getting the chance to perform for industry executives in their offices, and that was such a moment in time.” “I’ve always been drawn to inspiration and curiosity and I’m very open to be creative but at times, that can lead you down paths that you shouldn’t be on. I took some of the good with the bad and understood that I had to give myself a learning curve and keep going,” Rowe explains.
Jay-Z back story:
“I was signed to Island/DefJam at the end of 2006 and Jay Z was an executive in the company. There was a showcase that I was asked by our studios in NYC to perform for some of the key executives. LA Reed, Jay Z and just a handful of others were in this small room with a small stage. I played three songs and apparently, in the back of the room, LA Reed turns to Jay Z and says, that’s the Grammys right there.” Right before that performance, Reed says to Rowe, lemme introduce you to Jay Z.”
“The first thing he said was, “I like your getup.” I was wearing this very cool outfit that belonged to my grandmother and it was very 1970s Janis Joplin. It was a one-piece jumpsuit and the sleeves flowed out, and the pant legs flared; it had every color of the rainbow you can imagine with gold sequined trim. “I like your getup, Jay Z says, and “that was the first line that I got from Jay Z. I thought to myself, okay that’s iconic.” Then performed later that night. About a year later, in Los Angeles at a Grammy after-party, “I saw him again. I’m thinking, this guy’s not gonna have any idea who I am. Jay Z just looked me straight in the eye and was like, “you are fantastically talented. I think at that point I levitated a little.”
New York with Gigi
There is something magical about driving into New York, and seeing the NYC skyline at night, lit up as far as the eye can see. City streets with passers-by and yellow cabs honking while merging into the heart of Chinatown. There are all these barricades and scaffolding on every block. Graffiti on the sides of the buildings with classic New York graffiti-style bubble letters, all the way up the high rises.
And right in the middle of it all, the Rockwood Music Hall hosted Gigi Rowe’s performance to kick off the release of her debut album, Laura. We chatted about what it’s been like recently:
Rowe says, “It’s kind of taken me back to the moments that I [remember feeling] when I first started with music, [and] I got my first record deal. That’s such a rare and beautiful thing. When you’ve had a lot of experiences in the industry, you can recapture some of that essence and the magic, but when you don’t really know what you’re stepping into, and you haven’t really gotten to experience the industry side of music, you’re just following your heart, and you’re just following inspiration. I’m having a lot of those moments right now, and I really want to just stay in the space that I’m in.”
So many of Gigi Rowe’s days lately have been filled with so much of what she loves to do. She’s headed to the studio with her producer and collaborator on Laura after this album release. “We’re already working on a new body of work. I’m in rehearsals, I’m in and out of Brooklyn, and I’m staying at the Jersey shore right now. I have been having so many experiences that they are filled with so many interesting characters being, centered around creating, playing music, and performing music. I’ve actually been thinking to myself, this is kind of the dream, just to have more days filled with moments like this.”
Rockwood Music Hall
Rowe performed for an intimate crowd at the NYC club, accompanied by guitarist and pianist Ben Hoffman. Her performance was a stripped-down, unplugged version for the midweek show. Before getting onto the stage, sitting at the bar with a tall glass of water, Gigi wrote down her setlist on a napkin. She performed six songs from the album and then played one song that she describes, “that is just a special kind of punk rock song” that she had previously released that she played in the early nightclubs era, called “When the Time Comes.” Then closed the evening with two new tracks entitled “Glamorous Runaway” and “Ghost in the Rear View.” With a baby grand piano on stage, At Rockwood, both Hoffman on piano and Rowe picking up the guitar gave a compelling performance with lots of interesting banter between songs.
Live photographs courtesy of Sophia Varoumas @ Rockwood music Hall September 30, 2022
Why a glamorous runaway?
“That spirit of restlessness, where I always feel like I’m simultaneously running toward something and away from something at the same time. And I think it’s all very spontaneous. I love to think of myself as a glamorous runaway.” Gigi Rowe pictures herself in that moment with a platinum Bob, oversized sunglasses, and this epic trench coat with shoulder pads and cinched at the waist. It’s inspired by a road trip from Los Angeles to the Las Vegas strip. Driving through the desert, stopping for gas in the middle of nowhere, intense motels, and it’s all a little dangerous. Being able to pull people into that world as a sort of backdrop for this glamorous runaway she’s created is a glamorized version of herself and her experiences.
It’s a Wrap
Gigi Rowe has this forthright confidence and positivity about herself, her world and her surroundings, even herself that it feels like a breath of fresh air. To see another human being embody carefreeness in a time of such hardships is inspiring. Truly. Once you’ve spent a substantial amount of time speaking with, studying, and watching her perform.
She doesn’t just ask you to come to her world; you become submerged, captivated by her lyrics, voice, and stage presence. Being in that presence is intoxicating because dreams feel possible around her. She makes music her business mindset all the time. She has a solid team with the plug for a hook-up to TV shows, video games, etc., making her money, and that’s a business-savvy female right there, connected to the music circuit.
She’s living a lifetime of music, and having an opportunity to spend some time chatting, watching her perform, and listening to her perspective on life, has me wrapped in a whole cosmic vibe.
I see her as the inner child of every little girl who has a determined dream and won’t stop until she’s set in her due position on an international platform reaching the ears and hearts of the masses.
She’s the next Mazzy Star. Her lyrics have the sultriness of a woman embodied in Velvet on; her new album borderlines the new-folk country hybrid, emotional and heartfelt anthems with messages of strength, love, and hope. She’s ultimately relatable to all of us with determination and grit.